In my part of the world, Winter arrives as a gentle jolly spirit and departs like a raving banshee. However, before I start navigating three-inch ice with an ancient Land Cruiser, I plan to enjoy the next month of merry merry merry. In order to do that, I need to be organized. In order to be organized, it is imperative I sit down ahead of time and get an idea of what I am going to make, bake or buy for the precious people in my life during this beautiful – if a little hectic – season of giving.
My husband won’t do any of this – he’s one of those people walking around Best Buy at midnight on Christmas Eve trying to figure out what would be a good present for me. Sadly for him, nothing at Best Buy is a good present for me. He’ll return with the usual giant bag of M&Ms and a driveway alarm that he has secretly wanted for the last six months, and he’ll manage to play it off as something I can use outside.
If you’ve got a gardener in your life, I’ve put an annotated list together that contains a little bit of everything. Gardeners are notoriously frugal, and as such, are deliriously happy with small, useful gifts that they would never dream of buying for themselves. Gardeners are also notoriously practical – so big ticket items for spouses such as chain saws or brush cutters are far more romantic than a gold bracelet with 1980-esque hearts all over it.
[Gentlemen– I’m talking to you. We don’t want the hearts.]
This list runs the gamut from stocking stuffers to expensive big-ticket items, but there are also ideas for those who would rather make something for the gardener in their lives. Remember, this miraculous season is one of giving joy to your loved ones, not joy to a collection agency in St. Louis, MO.
If you’re a gardener, put this list under the nose of the uninitiated this season. Share it on Facebook, print it out for your wealthy off-the-grid uncle, leave it open accidentally on your laptop, or pull it up on your phone for easy shopping for the gardeners in your own life. There’s a lot to choose from, but relax, I’ve put it in sections for easy scrolling – enjoy!
Bosmere Copper Plant Markers, 10-Inch
We rarely buy these for ourselves, but we have specimen shrubs we’d love to tart up a bit in the garden.
TEKTON 5/32-Inch Letter and Number Stamps
For the true OCD gardener in your life.
Luster Leaf SunCalc The Sunlight Calculator
Gadgety, gimmicky. Oh most definitely yes. But if your gardener is delusional about the amount of sun their border is getting – pretty useful.
Rapitest pH Soil Tester
Every gardener needs one for quick, ball-park testing.
Rapitest Soil Test Kit
Tick Twister Pro
A quick, safe way of removing ticks without squeezing all that vile little juice right back into your body – or touching the damn things. Everyone who works outside should have one of these in their utility drawer.
10x Hand lens
Even if your gardener’s eyes are great, they’re not THAT great. A magnification loop like this nice one from Lee Valley can tell you the difference between a speck of dust and a deer tick; or hard water residue and a scale infestation.
If you’re trying to inspire a budding gardener, stick with salad fixings like lettuces, radishes and tomatoes with a pack of zinnia thrown in for good measure. Harder core gardener in your life? Choose some out-of-the-ordinary squashes or perhaps some Asian greens. I’m a sucker for Renee’s Garden Seeds and Botanical Interests. In both cases, the seeds are of excellent quality, the art work is practically frame-able, and the seed info is extensive.
A.M. Leonard Classic Stainless Steel Soil Knife
An incredibly useful hand tool that cuts, digs, and in a pinch, pries. And its orange handle makes it very hard to lose.
CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator
Digging weeds out from under shrubs, creating seed furrows and scaring small children with the old hook-for-hand joke makes this tool a true go-to.
ARS Telescoping Long Reach Pruners
Oh how I love them. LOVE them. Beautifully lightweight and easy to use at full extension they almost make that rose on the side of the house a joy to prune. Almost.
Stihl Brush Cutter
The bad boy of brush cutters. Makes short work of invasive vines and instantly adds five points of raw sex-appeal to the person wielding it – male or female.
Ryobi 8-inch Electric Lopper
For those who desperately want the use of a small chain saw but still feel nervous using one. That would be me. Love mine and love my husband more for leaving Best Buy last Christmas Eve and heading over to Home Depot.
Black & Decker 24-Inch 40-Volt Cordless Hedge Trimmer
Yes, shears work. Yes pruners can be more discerning. Yes, there are such things as fifty feet of lavender or boxwood hedge. Life is short – this tool rocks.
FUN AND USEFUL
Cavallini Papers & Co 2017 Botanica Desk Calendar
Or any Cavallini vintage desk calendar for that matter. High quality paper, elegant images – just gorgeous, and gorgeously practical.
“The Roo” Gardening Apron
A very handy pocket apron from the innovative folks at Handy Camel. How many shirts does the gardener destroy with mud, snags, oil or stain each season? How many pockets does the gardener need at any one time? Just put it on and be done with it.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac 2017 Gardening Calendar
This information packed calendar is not only functional but is illustrated with beautiful drawings that inspire the gardener/farmer to get out there and get working. This one hangs in my kitchen and helps me keep track of when I’m harvesting honey or fertilizing shrubs or worming chickens or changing air filters in mowers. And most importantly, it tells me when to stop looking down at the soil and turn my attention to a blue moon instead.
OH YOU SHOULDN’T HAVE!
Jackson and Perkins luxury
If your gardener is like me, he or she is buying a perfectly acceptable wreath at Costco for $17.99 and feeling that the value-to-money ratio is pretty high. But deep in the secret recesses of an indulgent heart, they long for the luxury of a wreath or garland trimmed in boxwood, eucalyptus and magnolia, and delivered to the door to make the house feel like a million bucks. Jackson and Perkins is your one stop greenery shop for everything from holiday amaryllis bulbs to luscious garlands that go on and on. What a beautiful way to make someone feel special. Or to apologize to your mother for everything in your childhood you confessed to during Thanksgiving Dinner Table Amnesty. (Or don’t you do that in your family?)
Copper Rain Chain
Exceedingly popular in the last few years, rain chains are not only practical and creative, they are special works of art that will delight any gardener – particularly if you buy a good one. Rainchainsdirect.com delivers on that promise, and their chains are so long that they can be suspended over a rain barrel from a gutter, yet still have a length left over to make a beautiful container fountain.
A Gift Certificate to a retail or mail-order nursery
Some of my favorites:
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs – Gloucester Courthouse, VA
Dancing Oaks – Monmouth, OR
Evergreen Nursery – Evensville, TN
Far Reaches Farm – Port Townsend, WA
Plant Delights – Raleigh, NC
Susanna Farm – Boyds, MD
A BOOK FOR CHRISTMAS
Deep-Rooted Wisdom: Stories and Skills from Generations of Gardeners – by Jenks Farmer
One of the best gardening reads of the year. A book that shares gardening techniques from an expert, but does so within the framework of generational mentoring and trusted, frugal methods.
God’s Word for Gardeners NIV Bible – by Shelley Cramm
It is the Christmas season, and this beautiful, meticulously researched devotional Bible will provide your gardener thoughtful reflections for every day of the year.
Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat – by Ellen Zachos
Foraging is hot, hot, hot right now. Zachos’ book gives the beginner an overview and even includes recipes for those woodland finds.
Fairy House: How to Make Amazing Fairy Furniture, Miniatures, and More from Natural Materials – by Debbie Schramer
Finally! A miniature gardening book that shows you how you can make your own furniture out of natural materials instead of ponying up hundreds of dollars for Made-in-China chotchkies. Authentic and inspiring.
(For a comprehensive list of books old and new that I heartily recommend, see Resources on my website.)
GIFTS THAT KEEP ON GIVING
Garden Design – An amazing redesign and no ads. Yummy.
Fine Gardening – The latest and greatest with a good mix of academic and casual hort news.
The English Garden – Garden porn. Garden. Porn.
Country Gardens – Fun and very approachable magazine for many types of gardeners.
Greenprints – For those that enjoy the stories that make up gardeners’ lives.
The American Gardener – A truly excellent magazine and just one of the many reasons to join The American Horticultural Society (see below).
If the gardener in your life has a special interest in a specific plant or type of gardening, consider giving them a year’s membership in a National Association. In these days of virtual gardening, virtual friendships and virtually no person-to-person relationships, membership in these valuable, academic organizations is dwindling- and yet, they provide some of the best quarterly journals, speakers, and opportunities for fine-tuning the gardener’s knowledge base. Two years ago a friend gifted me with a membership to NARGS, and I am so very glad he did.
Here’s just a few of the big ones to consider:
Harry and David – Because it’s Harry and David. And their pears have an addictive chemical in them. And pears are garden related, right?
ProFlowers Flowers of the Month – An expensive but highly luxurious treat for gardeners and non-gardeners.
Jade Canopy – Powered through CrateJoy.com, Jade Canopy is a new mother/daughter company dedicated to sending month-themed garden goodies in a fun box.
Four Winds Cellars – Because when the garden makes you drink wine, you want to drink good red wine – and this is good red wine (particularly their Petit Syrah & Tempest). Their wine club membership is also the gift you can give your spouse and benefit from yourself. That’s not a crime when wine is the motive.
MADE WITH LOVE
Whether you are trying to save money, or wish to reconnect with the spirit of the holiday season, a homemade gift is the gift of your time – a precious commodity these days. No matter what you make, bake, craft or build, take a few minutes more of that precious time to wrap your present carefully and creatively – and it doesn’t take $$$ to do so. For garden-based gifts, I love to start with some good old-fashioned brown craft paper, tie with garden twine and sealing wax, and finish with a garnish from the winter garden such as teasel stems, acorn clusters, bittersweet berries or sprigs of evergreen.
Here are a few ideas for honoring the gardeners in your life with something creative. If you’ve got a special idea of your own or a link to a favorite project, please add it to the comments section where other readers can benefit from it!
VINTAGE TIN STRING HOLDER
String gets tangled and gardeners get frustrated, but this holder made out of a vintage tin will not only make it convenient, but extremely attractive. You can also use a plain or blue pint-size glass canning jar with lid.
- Round or square tin with lid 4-5 inches high and 3-4 inches wide (or use a pint canning jar with lid and ring)
- Plastic lid (from a throw-away container like sour cream)
- Ball of garden twine
- 1/4 inch drill bit and drill
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks
- Drill a hole in the middle of the metal tin lid.
- Cut a 2×2 inch square out of the middle of the plastic lid. Cut a 1/2 inch X right in the middle of the piece.
- Turn the tin lid over and line up the X on the plastic square with the hole in the lid. Using the glue gun, affix the plastic square along its edges to the metal lid. This will provide a tight hold on the twine so it doesn’t fall right back into the tin.
- Carefully fish out the pulling end of the twine from the middle of the ball, put the ball in the tin and push the end through the hole in the lid.
- Put the lid on the tin and you’re done. A nice accompaniment to this present is a good pair of scissors – and if you use a canning jar, you can punch a large hole near the side of the lid to hold a small pair.
PLANT MARKER SET
- A set of used aluminum mini-blinds (thrift store!)
- A pair of good scissors
- Paper towels
- Household cleaner or white vinegar
- Some pretty wrapping twine or raffia
- Small rectangular box or cylindrical tin
- A fine point Sharpie marker (for gifting)
- Small pair of scissors (for gifting)
- Cut 15 pieces of blind in each size – 6, 8 and 10 inches.
- Wipe each piece lightly with a cleaner-dampened paper towel.
- Cut one end of each piece into a point.
- Tie the markers together in three bundles and arrange in a lidded box or tin with the Sharpie and a small pair of scissors.
It’s a nice touch to include a pair of scissors for customizing the markers, but not necessary. Also, consider giving one black and one colored marker – but make sure they are fine point.
BULB FORCING KIT
Show a budding gardener just how easy it is to force bulbs indoors for those bleak months of winter ahead. An easily assembled ‘kit’ with printed directions will make it foolproof. Hurry on this one – bulbs are on clearance racks NOW!
- 3-10 spring bulbs depending on the container you choose. Tulips and paperwhites are some of the best, but a single hyacinth bulb is also wonderful.
- An interesting container without any drainage holes or cracks. Preferably glass or glazed ceramic. Options to think about for taller bulbs – glass canning jar, small fish bowl or straight-sided vase. Hyacinths don’t need as much support and can use a shallower bowl or glass.
- Decorative gravel, pea gravel or glass beads
- Brown craft paper
- Ribbon, twine or raffia
- One sheet of good quality paper
- Either a computer printer or a good old fashioned pen.
- Card envelope
- Box that can comfortably contain the above (for presentation and wrapping).
- Tissue paper
- Packing material
- Pre-assemble your kit so you know how many bulbs and how much gravel to include.
- Fill your container with at least 2-3 inches of gravel.
- Set the bulbs close together on top of the gravel in one layer.
- Disassemble kit.
- Make large circles of craft paper for gravel and bulb bundles.
- Put the bulbs in the middle of one of the circles, gather up edges and tie with ribbon/raffia. Write the name of the bulbs on the bundle.
- Repeat with gravel.
- Arrange in box with container, packing material and tissue paper.
- Print out or write out the following directions on paper to fit your envelope, and include in the package:
A Little Bit of Spring
Bulb Forcing Kit
Keep your bulbs in the fridge for at least six weeks, and then until you are ready to start them. Empty three-quarters of the gravel into your container. Place the bulbs side-by-side into the gravel, point upward. Pour the rest of the gravel over the bulbs so they are about a quarter covered and anchored firmly. Fill the container with water coming just up to the base of the bulb and maintain the water at this level.
There is no need to keep the bulbs dark – they will start growing immediately, and bloom within 3-4 weeks. Set in a prominent position so your family can watch the miracle of a blossoming bulb.
If you wish to keep the bulbs, let the foliage die back naturally and in the spring, put them into good soil in the garden, but don’t expect further bloom for a couple of years.